‘Sacred cows make the tastiest hamburgers.’ — Abbie Hoffman
B. J. Skane was the quintessential gadfly. She pestered, questioned, challenged and often infuriated everyone around her. But we are diminished without her.
In preparing this column, I scanned over a hundred pieces that B. J. wrote for the Daily Post over the past couple of years. Topics range from West Papuan cultural legends The Black Brothers to attacks on the folly of the Black sands fish factory (remember that?), to yachting rules, to ground-breaking court cases.
B. J. was a terrier with a story. Once she’d got her teeth into something, there was no letting go. For better or for worse, she would immerse herself in the arcane details of her topic of the day, and she would not relent until she felt she could explain it in perfect detail.
For anyone attempting to edit her work, this proved a fascinating challenge. No one could gainsay her desire to tell all of the truth, whether we wanted to hear it or not. There are few of us here who did not—at least once or twice over the years—feel a momentary desire to hide under the desk when B. J. walked into the newsroom.
But she was rarely, if ever, wrong on the facts. Argue as you like with her conclusions, she was a consummate researcher, and her ability to lay out every painful detail of a story was without parallel in this country.
Many is the time I had been absolutely sure about a name, a date or a circumstance, only to discover with wry amusement that B. J. was right to correct me.
B. J.’s diminutive stature and long white mane of hair made her uniquely recognisable. And in the years that I’ve known her, first as a fellow freelancer, then as the guardian at the gates of the Daily Post, I came to feel a deep fondness for that indomitable profile.
It is no secret that her home life was difficult, to say the least. And yet she very rarely dwelt on her own challenges. She was a true champion for all of life’s victims, and a stalwart supporter of the many abandoned and neglected pets in town.
If we’re honest, there’s probably not a single one among us who hasn’t breathed a sigh—or even a muttered expletive—when dealing with B. J. But she had class. She had dignity.
And that’s more than can be said for many of the people she took on in her years as a freelance journalist.
She had a fierce belief in right and wrong; indeed she saw most of life in bright contrast. This led to her lean harder on ethical and moral points than many of us might have wanted. But she wasn’t blindly moralistic. And heaven help us, she was so very often right. Far more often than some would like to admit.
In those rare times when she wasn’t ensconced in her work, she was a chatty, affable woman who loved a bit of dry humour, and who managed to smile in circumstances that would break most people down.
She had a rapier’s resilience, and a rapier’s ability to pierce the densest ambiguity. No matter how many times she struck me or my friends to the quick, I cannot feel anything but warmth when I think of her.
And now that she’s gone, I mourn. Not so much for her. Her suffering is over. I mourn for the country. I fear our sacred cows may become all too fat and plentiful without B. J. around the skewer them.
We miss you B. J. More than you can know.